Xena crouched and grabbed the stick, giving it a shake, and sniffed it. It smelled of earth and wood, just like any other she'd ever picked up in the past. She didn't know why the human wanted them, but after Gabrielle's strange gesturing and pointing, she decided not to argue. Xena was too happy that the human felt well enough to want to move around in the cave. Though she didn't step outside to the confines of the cave itself, Gabrielle was willing to step out of her room, and that was good enough for Xena.
She'd watched as a mixture of emotions had flickered across her features when Xena had led her to the entrance in the wall. The human had stayed suspiciously quiet; her breathing the only tell-tale sign that she was following behind. Xena had been happy, giddy even, when she had approached the mouth of the cave and looked out. It had surprised her when Gabrielle had started to breathe rapidly, wrapping her arms around herself, and then stepped back, away from the daylight pouring in, a look of absolute fear twisting her features. On the verge of tears, Gabrielle had said nothing, only shaking her head and stepped back into the shadows, holding her hand protectively over her wound.
Xena knew without needing to be told that Gabrielle feared leaving the cave. It was obvious, and after what she had been through, and she couldn't blame the human for being apprehensive. She let the human hide away again in the cave. But not before Gabrielle had waved the stick she and Joxer had been using earlier. She showed it to Xena, gesturing wildly. Once Xena had gotten the gist that the human wanted more of them, she'd made it her mission and set out in search for more.
Now, as she stalked the forest floor, searching for more twigs, thoughts ran through Xena mind as she wondered what the human wanted them for. She had never used them in the past. Seeing Gabrielle and Joxer playing with the stick, though it had looked strange to her, had made her smile and wondered if she wanted to play more with her wolf brother.
The tension that had suspended between the two during their introduction had scared Xena. She didn't want to abandon her family or lose them in any way, but after meeting the human, she found she didn't want to lose her too. She felt deep down that this was her chance to find out who she was, where she was from. Something about the human spoke to her; it was like a whisper in the heart, as though Gabrielle's humanity was quietly calling out to the wildness in Xena, attempting to reintroduce her with her own.
After Joxer left, Xena had noticed Gabrielle become withdrawn again, her eyes adopting a haunted look that she'd seen far too often since she'd awakened. She hadn't heard Xena when she'd tried to get her attention; Gabrielle had acted as though she had seen something that wasn't there, and it worried Xena. Fearing for the human, Xena had gestured for her to stay inside the cave and ventured out by herself.
She carried her armfuls of sticks as she walked through the cave. It wasn't long before she heard a sound that made her frown. To her ears it sounded high pitched murmuring sound. Picking up the pace, Xena twisted around the cave until she arrived at the main room.
Joxer was padding along, dragging the dead body of a deer behind him; its limbs knocked carelessly against rocks, and its head bounced with Joxer's eager approach. Gabrielle however looked less than enthusiastic. Xena didn't understand much of what the human said when the noise came out of her mouth, but she could read Gabrielle's body language as easily as Joxer's blissful ignorance. She dropped the sticks in a pile near the entrance and approached the wolf.
'Um, Joxer, I think you're making her uncomfortable,' she said.
The wolf looked up at her. 'I am?' he replied. 'But I'm just bringing the human food.'
Xena looked at the human's pale complexion and the obvious disgust in her eyes when she looked at the dead animal in Joxer's mouth. 'I don't think the human eat straight from the animal. I tried giving her meat earlier, but she looked like she was going to spit it back up like a bird when she chewed.'
'That's weird.' Joxer frowned in confusion and rolled his eyes, dragging the deer away. 'Alright, fine - more for me.'
'I was just kidding.'
While her brother moved a small distance away, Xena eyed the human. She watched as the human's expression turned from disgust to sickness when the wolf started tearing at the dead animal, clawing through the tough flesh with his teeth and claws.
"Oh, I think I'm gonna be sick," Gabrielle complained as she turned away. She leaned on Xena's offered arms and caught her breath. "Did you get the sticks?" Xena tilted her head curiously. "Sticks?" Gabrielle pointed at the one she'd thrown earlier. "Sticks?"
Realizing what she meant, Xena smiled broadly and pulled the human over to the pile she'd brought. She watched as Gabrielle's face quickly adopted a smile as she looked at them all. Gabrielle let go and dropped to a crouch, rifling through them. She held them up to her ear as she shook them and held them out, snapping them with a loud crack! At the noise, Gabrielle nodded and turned her smile on Xena.
"Yes, these will do."
Deer meat being ripped apart left behind, Gabrielle moved with a purpose. She grabbed a handful of the sticks and looked around the cave. Her stomach was still churning from a mixture of disgust and hunger. If she was going to be able to start a fire without throwing up first, she would need to find an ample spot to start. The main cave room would prove difficult. She knew the moisture from the heated water would soak through the sticks, making them useless, and a fire hard to start. Figuring the trail leading to the mouth of the cave was the best bet, Gabrielle moved them over there.
When she reached the trail a cool breeze brushed over her exposed arm, lifting the small hairs there. Being so close, the smoke created from the fire would have somewhere to escape, preventing them from choking within the cave. Still, though she knew she needed warmth and cooked food, being so close to the entrance didn't serve her nerves too well. It made her feel open and vulnerable, and though she was sure Lila thought her dead and gone, she wasn't ready to leave the safe confines of the cave just yet.
She stood the sticks up lengthways, digging them into the dirt and pointing the end to each other until they touched, and threw more into the middle of the conical structure. She'd already found small patches of dry grass near the entrance the first time she'd approached it. But when her fear had almost consumed her, she'd grabbed it and ran. She'd managed to keep it dry enough that it would catch fire. So, after she'd pulled it out of her pocket, she tucked it into the centre and grabbed a couple of rocks nearby, smashing them together at an angle until the grass caught the spark and set fire.
Gabrielle watched her lips curving into a smile, as the flames licked at the dry sticks. She sat back carefully and held her hands over the flames, letting the heat soak into her cold hands. It wasn't until she heard a whimpering sound that she looked up. Xena was crouched a small distance away, her eyes wide and fearful as she stared at the fire.
Smiling gently, Gabrielle held out her hand. "Xena? It's okay; it's just a fire. Fire. Come here."
Never taking her eyes off the fire, Xena moved over. She took the hand offered to her and tucked herself behind Gabrielle's body, looking over her shoulder.
"You don't have to be afraid, Xena. See?" Gabrielle reached out and held her hands over the fire, sighing contentedly when the heat pressed against her hands, warmed her body.
Xena frowned. She watched the human carefully as she lifted her hands above the dancing embers. After a moment of apprehension, she crawled around the human slowly, taking care to stay close, and copied. Her eyes widened in amazement when something invisible pushed against the flesh, warming it.
"Fff-ire?" she tried, remembering what Gabrielle had called it.
Gabrielle nodded happily. "Yeah, fire. Warm." She looked into the fire and stared at the flames.
She couldn't remember the last time she'd created a proper fire; like the ones she and her father had created when they went on their camping trips with Lila. They would find a clearing filled with fallen logs, some big and sturdy enough that they could be used as a seat, and the first thing they would do was make a fire. Being the best at it their father hunted for the food and fishes, while Gabrielle and Lila stayed together to clear the glade of big rocks, insects, or anything that would hinder them when laying out their bedrolls.
Gabrielle could remember feeling so relaxed with her family; she loved the connection they seemed to share when they camped. Though Lila had expressed a definite dislike for camping, even she had managed to stop hating it so openly long enough to admire the beauty of the outdoors. But what Gabrielle loved the most was the open sky. The sky held so much beauty, and at night, when she laid under the stars, she had felt almost…whole. Some part of her called out for the wilderness, for the open road and travel; like it was part of her soul or something she would have done in another life. But instead, she had been dealt with the life she had now. She couldn't take it back, she couldn't change it.
The sound of a pained cry broke her out of her reverie and she looked to her side. Xena scrambled back from the fire holding her hand, cradling it carefully as though it was a separate part to herself; like a baby animal. She glared at the fire, hissing at it as though she could scare it away. If not for the ire in the wild woman's gaze, Gabrielle might have laughed at the innocent picture.
"Did you burn yourself, Xena?" she asked. She reached out to the woman, but she pulled away, licking her hand. "Xena, don't do that. Here, let me have a look."
The pain was agonizing. Xena hadn't expected it to happen; the fire hadn't looked like an enemy. It had offered comforting warmth that made her and Gabrielle collectively happy. Her curiosity had brought her closer to it, but the fire had attacked her so quickly, she couldn't have defended herself in time. She brought her hand to her mouth and licked the flesh of her palm; it throbbed and burned with pain.
She had just barely realized the human had left before she came to kneel in front of her, a wet rag in her hands. When Xena saw the other covering of Gabrielle's arm gone she knew she'd ripped it away. She didn't wait for Xena's protest as she pulled her hand away from her mouth and wrapped the cold, wet rag around her hand. She tied it securely, tucking the end into the bound material, and smiled once she was done.
"That should help the burn, but you shouldn't lick it…it could get infected," Gabrielle scolded, though she knew it was lost on Xena. Or so she thought. As she moved to sit back next to the wild woman, Xena curled her knees up to her chest looking sorry for herself as she stared at her hand. It's almost like looking after a child, Gabrielle thought with amusement. "You aren't supposed to touch it, Xena. Look,"
Gabrielle carefully grabbed the woman's hands and, with her own, let them hover a safe distance away from the flames. Xena protested at first. She tried to wriggle out of her grasp, but when no harm came to her she relaxed, looked to Gabrielle in wonder, a wry smile lifting a corner of her mouth.
"See? Not bad now, is it?"
"Not bad," Xena repeated.
Gabrielle grinned. "It's good to see you're getting better at talking. I want to know about you…what happened you; how did you get here?" she asked. The other woman just stared at her vacantly and unknowing, her eyes wide with confusion. Xena's eyes watched her lips moving carefully, but Gabrielle could see no understanding in the look she gave when she looked back up at her. Not that she'd expected her to understand. "Never mind," she said.
She looked up when the wolf padded over and nudged Xena's arm with his bloody snout. Seeing the blood around his nose and mouth painted a gruesome and dangerous picture; a real life reflection of the danger his kind posed. But when she remembered how gentle he had been earlier, those thoughts quickly disappeared. He looked up at her with a wolfish grin, his wild eyes reflecting the flickering embers of the fire, and she couldn't help but smile in response.
Xena nodded at his growl and rose to her feet. While she moved over to the deer, Gabrielle stayed where she sat, tending to the fire. She prodded at it carefully, watching the wolf out the corner of her eye. Joxer seemed more enthralled by the fire than scared. He pressed his chin atop his front paws and lifted his back end up, his tail twitching curiously from side to side as he watched the flames with intense eyes. She didn't want his fur to catch fire when he crept closer. When she was able, she rose up on her knees and held a warning hand out, staving off his approach until Xena came back, not that he looked particularly happy about it. He looked like he wanted to play with the fire.
The wild woman sat beside Gabrielle, her hands laden with bloody, raw meat, and a very sharp looking stone. Without any preamble, Gabrielle took one of the slabs of meat from Xena and, satisfied that the fire was big enough, placed the meat carefully on the makeshift rack she'd built over the fire. She could feel the woman's eyes on her, and when she looked, Xena had a strange look in her eyes. She could have almost sworn that she was looking at her as though she was crazy.
What is the human doing to the meat? Is she crazy? Xena thought. She looked to her brother and saw him looking at her with the same bemusement she felt. They looked to Gabrielle with confusion and concern. Did she want to destroy the meat because it disgusted her? Was that it? If that was the case then Xena didn't want to waste good food.
She reached out for it and received a quick rap against the knuckles of her good hand.
"No," Gabrielle said, smiling as Xena rubbed the back of her hand. "Just leave it to cook. You won't be sorry, Xena. I promise."
Xena turned to the meat with longing eyes, her mouth twisting into a pout.
Xena sat a safe distance away from the fire, her brother's chin lying peacefully on her knees and his eyes closed. She watched the flames with unseeing eyes, her hand making a lazy and familiar trail over his fur, lulling him further into the sleep that had taken him. She would feel him twitch every now and then, his whiskers tickling the exposed skin of her thighs, or he'd kick out gently as though he was chasing something in his dreams.
She didn't know how long she had sat there with her back against the wall watching the fire, only that the light leading to the mouth of the cave had dulled in colour, casting shadows through the tunnel like cave, closing it off with darkness. Though she didn't go out to check, she could guess that night had fallen. Beams poured through the crack in the ceiling; the soft, silvery moonlight illuminating the pool, reflecting off the water and danced across the walls surrounding it, revealing the grooves and curves carved naturally into the rock after years of wear.
The contrasts of the colours created by the two lights were significantly different. Where the moonlight was soft and cool, the fire was bright and hot, and as Xena had found out earlier, dangerous. The lights were untouchable, but their effect was undeniable. The moonlight spilled across everything it touched, giving the impression of a magical haven, whereas the firelight licked sensuously across Gabrielle's skin, accentuating the curves and lines of her very human form.
Xena had watched over her as soon as she'd eaten and laid across the skins she'd brought back from the den. Gabrielle had laid them out by the fire, not bothering to cover herself; the heat emanating from the fire seemed to be enough for the human. Not that Xena was complaining. Uncovered, Xena was able to watch the human more closely than when she'd slept in the small room. In the other room, darkness had reigned. It had shielded the human from her eyes and surrounded her with the same depressing air that Gabrielle herself seemed to emanate. The human was taking small steps, but at least she was out of there.
She held her breath and hand as Gabrielle turned over in her sleep, muttering quietly under her breath. Xena didn't know what she was saying, but from the look on her face she guessed that whatever she was dreaming wasn't causing her distress; a welcome change from the painful noises that had fallen from the room during the first few days. With her new position, the human's face was completely visible to her. The shadows created from the dancing flames caressed across her face, as though it were lulling her into deeper sleep.
Gabrielle's expression looked peaceful, a far cry from the looks her delicate face had twisted into over the past few days. Xena thought she looked…normal. She wished she could understand the human properly. The more time she spent with the human, silently watching and listening, keeping her ears trained to pick up new words, she found herself becoming more adept with the language. Though it was still difficult, practicing them in her head and with the human gave her a better understanding. She could use them and point to what she thought her words were associated with, and a game of Trial and Error would ensue, prompting Gabrielle to either smile her praise, or gently correct her. Much like she had when burning the meat on the fire.
Xena felt her mouth turn up in a smile when she remembered the human's reaction to the food after it had lain over the fire for a time. As soon as Gabrielle had bitten into the meat, coloured from the smoke and heat, she had thrown her head back and moaned in pure rapture, as though it was the most delicious thing she'd ever eaten. Once she was done chewing she threw more on and ate the rest in record time, cleaning it away and even licking her fingers for good measure. Xena had tried the cooked meat, and although she was used to eating it straight from the animal, her tongue had cried out with amazement at the difference in taste. It was harder, but the hot meat had been delicious to eat. Joxer, however, had turned his nose up at it and settled with his bloody meat.
There was so much Gabrielle seemed to offer. Xena didn't know what other humans were like, and had only grown up listening to the tales of them from her family, but she knew deep down that if they were half as wonderful as Gabrielle was, they couldn't be too bad. How could they be?
Shuffling a little into a better position, Xena settled comfortably with her brother and closed her eyes, listening to the crackling sound that echoed in the small tunnel, letting it gently entice her to sleep.
Same disclaimers apply. If you have any thoughts/comments/reviews, please, if you have the time, tell me what you think :D If there are any issues regarding spelling, grammar, or possible con-crit, please make sure to send it in a PM, thank you :D Stay tuned!
I don't know when the next chapter will be up. Now that I'm in university, my time is being spread a little thinner than usual, but I promise you now, I will not give up on any of my stories. I will still find the time to write and update when I can. Thanks so much for sticking with me through this story so far. I love you guys! :'D